Saturday, November 24, 2007

Daddy Always Told Me: Never Become a Trial Judge

District Court judging is boring and frustrating. Appellate courts are where the action is. The Deseret Morning News has an interesting article on Paul Cassell, a 42 year old Bush appointee who just retired from his lifetime position as a federal judge for the District of Utah.
Cassell said he found himself questioning some laws at each turn. "I felt like it was proper judicial role to ask questions, even if we weren't necessarily charged with fixing the problem," he said. But he wanted to do more — he wanted to make a change. Being a federal judge, he couldn't do that.

"One of the frustrations about being a trial court judge is that you never set broad principles of law; of course, that's reserved for the appellate courts. ... When I was there for 5 1/2 years, I began to think that maybe I would have more effect in moving the law in a way that I think is desirable by doing appellate litigation."

Becoming a legal advocate is a better fit, he said. "I felt like for the rest of my life, I wasn't sure I could stay in one place doing one kind of thing. There were some issues I wanted to pursue, particularly working on crime victims' rights, which is an area that I felt very passionately about."

Another interesting part of the article is how Cassell's experience on the bench has motivated him specifically to speak out on certain parts of the legal system he considers broken -- areas not normally associated with a Bush appointee. For example, Cassell has blasted out of control mandatory minimum sentencing, and has written vigorously against the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity. I don't know if Cassell was involved in these issues prior to his appointment, but it appears that being on the bench side of these cases has definitely influenced his thoughts on the matter.

All via Orin Kerr, who notes that Cassell is one of five hot-shot young(ish) judges who have left the bench at a relatively early point in their careers.

PS: My dad really did, in fact, advise me never to become a Federal District Court judge. If that doesn't give you insight into what type of family I have, nothing will.

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